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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  PBS  December 19, 2010 10:00am-10:30am PST

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coming up, a standoff in arizona over teaching ethnic studies in tucson. does it encourage racism and even violence or olerance? plus, the time-honored and much-loved tradition of the christmas pageant. >> it's always a miracle to me that somehow, wow, they told the story again.
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welcome. i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. the administration this week released its one-year review of u.s. strategy in afghanistan. at a press nference on thrsda presiden obama said ile the war mas a difficult endeavor, progress is being made. >> in many places, the gains we've made are still fragile and reversible. but there is no question we are clearing more areas from taliban control and more afghans are reclaiming their communities. humanitarian aid groups, however, have voiced serious concerns over increased
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violence. reto stocker, head of the red cross in afghanistan said his workers are facing some of the wor secity ndions they've seen in 30 years. he said there are many areas they can no longer enter. referring to the conflict, stocker said, "it is spreading. there's no end in sight." more than 100 relief workers have been killed in afghanistan this year, including several who worked with religious charities. in haiti, tensions remain high after last week's political protests in the streets forced relief workers to suspend their activities for several days. some humanitarian efforts have resumed, but others are still on hold. several faith-based groups, including the southern baptists, decided to send their volunteer teams back to the u.s. because of the unrest.
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they say they'll try to re-start building projects in the new year. in the middle east, shiite muslims observed ashura, which marks the death of the prophet mohammed's grandson, a martyr killed in a 7th century battle. his death is commemorated with somber processions in which many beat themselves with whips or cut themselves with knives. in recent years, it has often been a time when sunni muslims attack shiites. in iran, close to 40 people were killed after suicide bombers targeted an ashura prayer service there. in other news, the u.s. senate took up the start treaty on nuclear weapons. several prominent religious leaders called for its immediate ratification. but earlier, two republican senators objected to the push to approve the treaty before the end of the year. they said working through the holidays would be sacrilegious and disrespectful to christians. but veral christian leaders responded that there's actually no better time to work on a treaty aimed at bringing peace on earth, since peace is a major theme of the christmas season.
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also, this week, a broad interfaith coalition held what it called an emergency prayer summit and march in support of the dream act which would create a path to citizenship for the undocumented children of illegal immigrants. the coalition urged the senate to approve the bill which has already passed the house. meanwhile, some conservative angelicals expressed disproal afer the hou voted again this week to repeal don't ask don't tell, the ban on gays serving openly in the military. the senate is expected to consider the measure this weekend. now, a lucky severson report. there is a new law about to take effect in arizona aimed at high school ethnic studies in the city of tucson. the courses teach hispanics, anglos, asians and native americans abo the own and eh otrs hto, and scho
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officials say thattrengthens democracy. but the incoming state attorney general says the courses are dangerous. others observe that suspicion of minorities has a long history. >> people don't like "the othe"" and in times of crisis, in times of great discontent, the minority group de jour is victimized as being the source of all the problems and also they have low status so you can dump on them and most of your contemporaries agree with you. >> our education is under attack. what do we do? fight back. >> reporter: these high school students feel dumped on. they are protesting a new arizona law that would cut the tucson school district's budget by $36 million a year if the district doesn't stop the way it's allegedly teaching its mexican-american studies classes. state superintendent of public instruction tom horne wrote part of the law himself.
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>> it says that you can't have courses that are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnicity or that arouse resentment against other ethnicities. that's the essence of it. >> reporter: the law also says ethnic studies classes cannot advocate ethnic solidarity or teach the overthrow of the u.s. government. horne was just elected arizona attorney general after eight years as the state's school chief. each year he says he became more determined to shut down tucson's ethic studies program. >> it was necessary because in the tucson unified school district they were dividing kids up by race. they had raza studies for the mexican kids -- la raza, as you know, means "the race" in spanish. african-american studies for the african-american kids, indian studies for the native-american
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kids, asian studies for the asian kids. to me it sounds like the old south dividing kids up by race that way. >> reporter: his primary witness against tucson's mexican-american studies program is john ward, who taught the class back in 2003 until, he says, he was pushed aside and eventually qu. ward is hispanic himself. i think early their purpose was to create the next generation of ethnic radicals who could hit the pavement. they simply wanted to spread this message in a fertile classroom. >> they teach kids that they live in occupied mexico, that the united states is run by a clique of white racist imperialist people that want to oppress latinos. >> reporter: abel morado is the principal of the tucson magnet high school. >> if he believes that we are putting kids in a position to mistrust their fellow student and the authority figures in their life, then there's not much i can say about that other than to say, well, you may be describing a program, but you're not describing this one. >> reporter: julio cammarota is an associate professor of mexican-american studies at the
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university of arizona, where the faculty senate unanimously approved a resolution calling the law "distasteful" and "disturbing." he says horne has never attended an ethnic studies class in eight years. >> if he came to the classroom he would see that the classrooms are diverse. students spend quite a bit of time learning how toespect each other's cultures d cultural differences, so there is not this idea that one culture is superior to another, and that's what he's sort of implying, that there is cultural superiority of one group over the other. that's ridiculous. >> reporter: this is a mexican-american studies class at one of six high schools in the tucson district. the class focuses on history and current affairs. the subject on this day was native american indian history. the teacher is maria frederico brummer. >> i think it's important for every one of our students to be strong citizens and knowinghat th hava commitment to democracy, and part of that commitment is knowing exactly
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where our country is coming from, our history. some of it might be negative and it's our responsibility not to repeat any part of that negative history again. >> reporter: superintendent horne says the classes are dividing kids by race, but not all the kids in this class were hispanic, who make up over 60% of tucson's high school students. this is 15-year-old shelbi plank. >> if you're in a normal americanistory class, you learn the white perspective, like, and if you're in the ethnic studies class you learn from the different races perspective, like from asians you learn about how they have started their own perspective on things. >> and they're not by far the best students at the school, but because of these courses they tend to do better than their peers at their school. they end up doing better. they end up scoring better on standardized tests, they end up
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graduating at a very high rate, they end up going on to college. >> reporter: superintendent horne disagrees with just how successful the program has been, but it does seem to have created some enthusiasm with the students. this is 16-year-old carmen camacho. >> i love that class. i'm not going to lie to you. i love that class. >> reporter: why do you love it? >> it's just like you get to learn other people's culture. you get to learn where other people came from. >> reporter: john ward thinks the part of the new law that prohibits teaching the overthrow of america is not overreaching. do you think they were actually teaching that in these classes? >> i do. when they teach that the entire governmental system is solely the product of the white power structure and that these students essentially have to resist that, the end result is that you essentially have to either totally overthrow or in some way totally remake the government.
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>> that's treason, and we wouldn't be teaching students to overthrow and be traitors of their country. we actually teach students to actually love the country, love to be here and be able to participate and contribute to this country. >> reporter: the turmoil here in arizona over hispanic issues like immigration and ethnic studies can be found in states throughout the u.s. in 2009 alone, over 200 state laws were passed aimed primarily at undocumented hispanics. ten states are now considering gislion fashned ter arizona's tough immigration law. it is, as they say, a hot-button issue. leonard dinnerstein is an author and retired history professor at the university of arizona. he says historically the finger-pointing in arizona and other states, mostly directed against hispanics, is nothing new.
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>> so if you want to go through history with the ethnic groups, when the scots irish came, in colonial america they sent them out to the frontier because nobody wanted to live near the scots irish. they were irascible. thbiggest prejudice in this country aside from anti-black and anti-indian was anti-catholic. >> reporter: he says one of the factors in today's climate is that people feel vulnerable and arful. >> when people are unhappy they look for scapegoats i'm not unhappy because of me, i'm unhappy because "those people" make me unhappy. >> reporter: one of the states considering an immigration law like the one in arizona is utah. but recently a group of civic and religious leaders created a compact asking the legislature to consider more humane legislation. the mormon church supports it. so does catholic bishop john wester. >> my hope would be that religion can encourage people to look into the issues for themselves and to take a proactive, responsible position. all of us have a responsibility as citizens to weigh in on this and to be informed, not just to believe what you hear
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necessarily next door, but to really look into the issues, and then to really, to put a human face and to ask the question why are the immigrants here? what is it that's driving them here? what do we need to do to solve this question? it's a very complicated question. >> while the grownups fight it out in arizona, the kids who attend ethnic studies are learning how democracy works. >> the government needs to really see what this class is about, and not just talking and saying, oh, it's just, you know, negative stuff, because it's not. >> reporter: tucson educators say they don't intend to change the way they are teaching because, they say, they're not teaching anything wrong. several have filed a suit against superintendent horne. the new law takes effect december 31.
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i'm lucky severson in tucson, arizona. this coming tuesday marks the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. it's also an important day for wiccans and other pagans who celebrate yule, a time when they mark the end of the year and the beginning of the new winter season. many charities, including religious organizations, are hoping they will see the incase in dations that typically occurs at this time of year. although the recession has slowed giving in past years, charities still receive more contributions in december than in any other month. a new report from a group called network for good shows that when it comes to online giving, one-third of all donations are made during this month. and, 22% of all online gifts are made during the last two days of the year.
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celebration of christmas is in full-swing in bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of jesus. and this year, there are many reasons to celebrate beyond the holiday itself. tourism officials say a record number of visitors, about 1.4 million, have already come to bethlehem in 2010, thanks in part to a decline in violence. and they expect close to 100,000 more tourists will come during this holiday season to see the historic sites associated with the birth of jesus. for almost 2000 years, christians have told the nativity story. it's been conveyed countless times in art, music and through reenactments based on the gospel accounts. indeed, for churches, the christmas pageant is one of the best-loved traditions of the season.
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kim lawton has our story. ♪ silent night >> reporter: at the first united methodist church of pasadena they're rehearsing for the annual christmas pageant. there's been a pageant here done by the children for as long as anyone can remember. the scripts vary from year to year, but the basic storyline never changes. it's about the birth of jesus. >> children tell the story that is always in one way or another the story of a baby being born who brings a new kind of hope and a new kind of life and a new kind of love to the places that that has gone away. everyone gets that. >> reporter: the christmas pagea is tradition that is being played outy congregations across the spectrum this holiday season and it has for generations. the pageants run the gamut, from small sunday school programs to large-scale broadway-style productions.
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there's usually a choir or some kind of singing. sometimes the participants are adults, but more often than not the pageant is performed by the children and documented by proud parents who these days are likely to post the video on youtube or facebook. john witvliet is professor of music and worship at calvin college in michigan. he says the christmas pageant is one way that churches actively connect with their history. >> it's participating in something that has gone on over time, a story that's been told for 2000 years, cldren who participate in a pageant just lie their pants
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grandparents did. >> reporter: interest in the circumstances of jesus' birth goes back to the earliest days of christianity. the story as described in the gospels was depicted in icons and other religious art. in medieval times, the nativity story was enacted on traveling wagons as part of religious dramas about the life of jesus. saint francis of assisi is credited with popularizing the tradition. in a candlelit christmas eve service in 1223, he staged a reenactment of jes' birth, and he included live animals, a tradition many churches continue to this day. >> what historians are a little less clear about is when christmas became such a child-centered celebration and when kids were involved in these dramatic reenactments in a significant way. >> reporter: at the heart of the christmas pageant is a fundamental tenet of christianity called the incarnation, the belief that god took on human flesh in the form of jesus and was born as a baby. >> this is not a story of the high and mighty. it's a story of the humble origins of jesus and ultimately of, as christians understand it, a god who chooses to work through very humble, ordinary means. >> reporter: witvliet says it's a story with universal appeal. nativity dramas can be found all over the world. >> what's wonderful is the way that different cultures bring their own insights to bear on telling the christmas story. >> reporter: but it can be a challenge for churches to come up with fresh ways to approach the familiar story year after
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year. this year's pageant at first united methodist is from the perspective of animals that might have been there when jesus was born. >> the animals are all squabbling, and then the wise old donkey just like told them that they had a gift to give to the birth of baby jesus. >> reporter: zoe perez has been in several pageants. last year she was a shepherd. this year she and her friend, maggie cole, have dual roles. they are birds, and they are also sheep. >> i think it is important to have pageants because they're fun. they don't take a lot of practicing, well at least ours don't, and they always turn out really good. >> reporter: director pam marx believes embodying the characters helps, in her words,
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"burn the story" into the children's ains. the actors agree. >> the kids get to learn more, and the people that are in them get to learn more about like christmas and god, and the parents can be sure that their kids are getting what they need about what they need to learn about things like that. >> reporter: marx says it's not always a perfect production but, she adds, it always seems to work. >> remarkably enough it comes together, and i would say there are times when it's been a greater miracle than others, but it's always a miracle to me that somehow, wow, they told the story again. >> i sometimes think it's in the lines that are forgotten and the bathrobes that the shepherds put on and in the halting rendering of these christmas songs that are not always sung perfectly in tune that some of the beauty of the christmas message is depicted and shown.
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>> reporter: first united methodist associate pastor debbie gara says children bring a special quality to the pageant. >> there are always the faces that we can't help but smile and feel warm about when we have all these hard places inside as adults. the children soften us in the telling of the story. the story of the telling of a baby child, of an infant, is something that warms everyone. >> reporter: but witvliet cautions that warmth and fuzziness shouldn't overwhelm the ultimate spiritual message of christmas. there's always danger en in a variety of christmas celebrations and pageants that at the end of the day the kids pick up a message that is ultimately sentimental. so there is a challenge for adults and those who mentor children to point them in a deeper and better direction.
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>> reporter: the message is what it's all about at evangel cathedral in upper marlboro, maryland, and so they do their pageant up big. the church calls this a broadway-style production that includes the modern day, the victorian era, and biblical times. there are live animals such as sheep, donkeys, alpacas, and yes camels in the sanctuary, too. this year's 20th annual pageant has a cast of over 200, including some of the biggest names in gospel music like gold record artist marvin sapp and grammy-award-winning superstars yolanda adams and donnie mcclurkin. >> because the story is an age-old story it can, you know, we've heard it in so many different forms and different ways, but here the production behind it makes this thing become alive, makes it more than just one-dimensional.
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you can see, you can feel, you can hear, and it brings you into another place when you are watching it. >> reporter: congregation members here see the christmas pageant as an opportunity to reach out to the community and share their faith, and that's why these artists wanted to be part of the project. >> at the end of the day we're strongly letting people know and giving them the message that, you know, the real meaning of christmas is christ. we can put an "x" in front of it, we can try to do all that other stuff, but the true meaning of christmas is christ. >> reporter: and from the smallest children's program to the biggest extravaganza that's the ultimate story of the christmas pageant. i'm kim lawton reporting. finally, a christmas greeting. at no time of year are the secular anthe sacred in is country so obviously intertwined as they are right now, leading
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up to christmas. on one side, there's santa claus and his reindeer. on the other, the infant jesus, in the manger. we sing "santa claus is coming to town." christians add, god already came. one minute you hear "jingle bell rock." the next, "o holy night." we read out loud "the night before christmas," and/or the nativity stories from matthew and luke. some of us try to divide up the images on the rds send. aormal tivi sne for traditional christians, although this one seems to have left out the shepherds. something religious but less formal for liberal christians, who probably would not mind the presence of a cute but very unbiblical rabbit. and a nice ecumenical poinsettia for everyone else. some cards bring wishes for a blessed christmas. others just, happy holiday. so what to say to our viewers, of many beliefs and traditions?
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how about a happy, healthy a autiful season, fr allf at "religion and ethics newsweekly." that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. there's much more on our website. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. you can follow us on facebook and twitter, find us on youtube, and watch us on smart phones and iphones with our new mobile web app. join us at pbs.org. as we leave you, more music from the evangel cathedral christmas pageant in maryland. ♪
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